Pogo %amp; Evie: A Zydeco Musical
nytheatre.com review by Joe Beaudin
August 19, 2007
According to the program notes, Amadé Ardoin, the "greatest accordion player of all time" and the "most famous Creole musician of all time," crossed racial boundaries and stirred up tension when, while performing in 1941, he "accepted a white handkerchief given to him by a white woman" in order to wipe the sweat from his forehead. Angered by this gesture, a group of men accosted Amadé, beat him, and used a wagon to crush his throat, ending his musical career. This incident caused tension between the two families as well as a divide between the two music styles of Cajun and Zydeco.
Pogo & Evie: A Zydeco Musical, written by Aaron Latham, is a feuding-family love story that follows Pogo, a young Zydeco musician from New York City who moves to Louisiana to play with his father, Big Possom, in a battle-of-the-bands contest. Pogo, a direct descendent of Amedé Ardoin, stumbles into a music store and stumbles in love with the owner's daughter, Evie, a Cajun musician who also plays in a band with her father. The tension mounts when Evie and her father, Gentilhomme Jaques, learn of Pogo's origin. Despite both fathers' disapproval of the pairing, Pogo and Evie, with the help of their two friends Woody and Dommie, try to defy their families' hatred and clashing styles of music by secretly going through with the relationship. Pogo and Evie's love will try to bridge the gap between a history of hatred and violence with understanding and of course...music.
The performers are really the highlight of this show. Adé Herbert as Pogo and Caitlin Summer Mulhern as Evie are cast well, and their singing, dancing and acting chops are not to be overlooked. Jamie Neumann as the frisky Dommie is electrifying. Her commitment to the role is spot-on and she is very enjoyable to watch on stage. She and the equally talented Will Manning as Woody provide the perfect clownish sidekicks to the lead characters. Keith Johnston as Big Possum and Ted McGuinness as Jacques are also good as the two fathers, both in terms of musical talent and character work.
And it's not just the leads. The chorus of dancers is magnificent. Under the choreography of Rachel Russell (who is also in the chorus) and direction by Sergio Alvarado, the dancers provide a plethora of entertainment. Russell's choreography had me jumping out of my seat, and made me want to take the free Cajun dance lessons that are advertised in the program. Likewise, I was impressed with all the members of the band (who are onstage the entire show). Specifically, I liked how some of the band members—notably the pianist, Scott Patterson—interacted with the cast members, being part of the plot, rather than an outside ghostly music-box that provide the tunes.
Unfortunately, where the performers shine, the story lacks. The stakes are just not high enough for the characters and the plot seems unfocused. There is too much exposition and set up. For instance, the entire first act is spent focusing on Pogo's discovering of why Evie and her father are cold toward him. I would have rather had this be something that was already known, since it is such a major part of his family's history. Also, there is too much focus on whether Pogo and Evie really like each other, which takes away from the story's main theme of love overcoming their families' terse relationship.
Because the stakes are too low, the plot really never takes off. Emotions are not heightened enough for there to be a true resolution, and I was left somewhat unmoved by the characters' storyline. With such good performers, a reworked plotline could make this a more successful show.